Texts/Emails between town officials are banned

A helicopter lands on the roof of the Cooper University Hospital. (Michael Bryant/Inquirer)

     Three months after the Burlington County Prosecutor found Evesham officials violated the Sunshine Law by discussing a controversial helipad project through electronic chat, the council voted to restrict the use of e-mails and texts.

     Prosecutor Robert Bernardi said that the mayor and council deprived the public from hearing dialog and debate at an open meeting when they exchanged a series of e-mails on their smartphones in March.  He declined to prosecute them or fine them $100, saying he believed the chat was a mistake.  But he  recommended the council adopt a law to prevent future breaches. 

     The council last week approved a ban on e-mails and texts between a majority of its members.  Also prohibited are “rolling e-mails” in which officials forward their messages and banter back and forth on an issue.

      "We are not allowed to make a decision by e-mail," said Township Manager Thomas Czerniecki.  Nor can the council debate something outside a public meeting, he said.     

      The mayor and council got in trouble after they discussed, via their smartphones, a proposal by Conner Strong & Buckelew, a politically influential insurance firm, to install a helipad off Route 73 in Marlton.   The company's executive chairman is South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross 3d.  Residents jammed meetings to protest the plan, and the planning board recommended a buffer to keep down the noise of the helicopters. 

      Mayor Randy Brown and several council members disagreed on whether to go along with all of the planning board's ideas.  Eventually, the project was approved. 

      Read about the controversy here: http://bit.ly/noelVb